Murph's Turf: Girls soccer at forefront of RHS fall awards

With a first-ever state champion having a featured role, here are The Ridgefield Press’s Best-Of Awards for the Ridgefield High School fall sports season:

Play: Since set pieces were a source of scoring all season for the Ridgefield girls soccer team, it was unsurprising that the Tigers converted two of them in their 2-1 victory over Staples in the Class LL state finals. But it was the second of those perfectly executed goals that proved more meaningful. On a corner kick in the 59th minute, Caitlin Slaminko delivered a precise service that defender Claire Middlebrook headed home for a 2-0 lead. When Staples scored later in the contest, Middlebrook’s second goal turned out to be the game-winner.

Performance: Junior receiver Jackson Mitchell set single-game program records for catches (16) and receiving yards (254) in the Ridgefield football team’s 38-35 loss to St. Joseph. Three of Mitchell’s catches went for touchdowns, including a 56-yarder in the third quarter.

Case of non-déjà vu: The Ridgefield girls volleyball team’s first regular-season loss was a 3-2 setback to Staples. So when Staples rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie the Tigers in the FCIAC quarterfinals, Ridgefield head coach Lidania Cibere asked her players what choice they preferred for the next day: Play in the conference semifinals or practice for the state tournament. The Tigers opted for the former, winning the fifth set, 15-7, to clinch a 3-2 victory over Staples.

Game: After falling to unbeaten Glastonbury sides in the last two state finals, the Ridgefield girls soccer team got revenge by beating the Tomahawks, 1-0, in the Class LL semifinals. The game was scoreless through regulation play and two 10-minute overtimes, with the Tigers prevailing on penalty kicks (4-2). Glastonbury nearly scored in the first OT, as a shot bounced off the crossbar and went out of bounds. The Tomahawks also had the most dangerous chance in the second overtime, but Ridgefield goalie Lauren Castle made a great stop on a free kick. Claire Middlebrook, Emma Jacobson, Kathryn Barlow, and Faith Arnold then converted four straight penalty kicks to secure the triumph and dethrone Glastonbury.

Duo: With the Ridgefield girls soccer team having graduated most of its top players, the prevailing thought was that the Tigers would be good but not great this season. But Ridgefield still had senior Kathryn Barlow and junior Claire Middlebrook. The two central defenders were at the heart of a backline that allowed just 11 goals in 22 games, leading the Tigers to a 16-3-3 record and a state championship.

Trio: Seniors Alex Cali, Connor Goff and Noah Isaacson established themselves as one of the best linebacking corps in Ridgefield football history. The three combined for 272 tackles (30.5 for a loss of yards) and 19 sacks, spearheading a defense that held six of 10 opponents to eight or fewer points. For good measure, Goff and Isaacson each blocked a punt.

Newcomer: Freshman Stephanie Bishop scored points for the Ridgefield girls swim team in the 200 and 500 freestyle events at all three postseason meets. She had top-eight finishes in both races at the FCIAC and Class LL meets before placing 16th in the 500 freestyle and 17th in the 200 freestyle at the State Open. Bishop also swam on two third-place relays at the Class LL meet, helping the Tigers finish second in the team standings.

Female athlete: Whether she was weaving through defenses to score goals or supplying artful passes to set them up, Katie Pieterse demonstrated why she was one of the state’s top field hockey players this fall. Pieterse, a senior forward, had 18 goals and eight assists as Ridgefield qualified for both the conference and state playoffs. Two of those goals came during the Tigers’ 4-1 win over Conard in the first game of the Class L tournament. A four-year starter, Pieterse ended her high school career with 34 goals and 27 assists.

Male athlete: An ankle injury kept JT Siano on the sidelines for the Ridgefield boys soccer team’s first three games of the season. But once he returned, Siano made up for lost time. The senior striker scored 18 times over the Tigers’ final 12 regular-season games and then added three more in the state playoffs to finish the year with 21 goals. Siano had a pair of hat tricks and also scored two goals in four other games, including Ridgefield’s 3-2 victory over Bridgeport Central in the second round of the Class LL state tournament.

Team: Despite being a perennial power, the Ridgefield girls soccer team went into the season still searching for the first state title in program history. Future editions will no longer feel that same pressure. A young Ridgefield squad that started just four seniors — and featured several freshmen in prominent roles — etched its place in RHS sports history by winning the Class LL championship with a 2-1 triumph over Staples.

Coach: That the Ridgefield girls soccer team’s first state title came this year is a testament to second-year head coach Iain Golding. Although his squad suffered heavy graduation losses, Golding compensated by making several tactical changes — most notably moving senior Kathryn Barlow from fullback (where she was a three-year starter) to center back — that paid off handsomely. Golding also worked several freshmen into the team and had a knack for making substitutions at the right time, guiding the Tigers to a 16-3-3 season and that elusive state championship.